Nevada Smith (1966)


(director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriter: John Michael Hayes/from The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Frank Bracht; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Steve McQueen (Nevada Smith/Max Sand), Karl Malden (Tom Fitch), Brian Keith (Jonas Cord), Arthur Kennedy (Bill Bowdre), Suzanne Pleshette (Pilar), Pat Hingle (Big Foot Work Camp Trustee), Raf Vallone (Father Zaccardi), Martin Landau (Jesse Coe), Howard De Silva (Warden of Work Camp), Paul Fix (Sheriff Bonnell), Gene Evans (Sam Sand), Janet Margolin (Neesa); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Henry Hathaway/Joseph E. Levine; Paramount; 1966)

Overlong, dull and labored.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Henry Hathaway (“Call Northside 777″/”Rawhide”/”True Grit”) directs this overlong, dull and labored follow-up to Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers (1964), with Steve McQueen playing the obsessive revenge-minded half-breed from that book– who was based on cowboy actor Ken Maynard’s early life, before he became a Hollywood cowboy star. The plot in this revenge Western is unbelievable, while its moralizing over forgiveness is never convincing nor meant to be. But that didn’t stop its popularity with the public.

Max Sand (Steve McQueen) has an Indian mother and a white father, and is illiterate. His folks are robbed, tortured and senselessly murdered by Tom Fitch (Karl Malden), Bill Bowdre (Arthur Kennedy) and Jesse Coe (Martin Landau). At the time not knowing the killers names, only that they are riding horses from his family’s ranch, the teenager goes on their trail in the West wilderness of the 1890’s. Aging itinerant gunsmith and former gunslinger Jonas Cord (Brian Keith) feels sorry for the young innocent and teaches him how to use a gun.

Max tracks the killers down, who went on separate paths. He meets in Abilene an Indian dance-hall whore (Janet Margolin) who belongs to his Kiowa tribe and she points out one of the killers, that he soon kills in a knife fight; Max next romances a Cajun (Suzanne Pleshette) farm worker in Louisiana and robs a bank to get arrested to meet up with one of the killers, who was arrested and held in a prison in the swamp; then Max escapes, killing the killer who flees with him; and some five years later Max tracks down the final killer on his list. But after wounding his parents’ killer, he can’t kill him in cold-blood and tosses away his guns after shooting out his legs. While on the run in his final destination he changed his name to Nevada Smith and decides to keep that name, hoping to make a new life for himself as he rides off in the sunset to meet up again with his philosophical mentor Cord.